For actor Matt DeAngelis, the flower power musical ‘Hair’ isn’t just a time capsule — it’s a reminder of the transformative effect of theater
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor
Winspear Opera House,
2403 Flora St.
Sept.. 20–Oct. 2
Matt DeAngelis wasn’t even alive when the hippie Summer of Love took place, but for the last two years, he’s happily relived it eight times a week as one of the original cast members in the Tony Award-winning revival of Hair.
“I didn’t know a lot about the show before I was cast in it,” says the 28-year-old Boston native who now makes his home in New York. “I’m sort of a contemporary rock musical theater singer and always have been, so when I started doing Hair I said, ‘How did I miss this for this long?’ But my parents never listened to it — they didn’t listen to the Beatles either, so I missed that, too.”
DeAngelis and other members of the original cast bring the show to that reddest of reds when they open at the Winspear Opera House Tuesday as part of the Lexus Broadway Series. In fact, this company is coming directly from the New York production, where they spent the summer.
That means DeAngelis was in New York when same-sex marriage was legalized in the Empire State. To commemorate it, three gay couples wed on the stage of the St. James Theatre while the Hair company looked on.
“I was standing center stage for that,” DeAngelis boasts. “A doorman and usher at different theaters were one couple, an actor whom I didn’t know and a playwright were another couple, Terri White and her longtime girlfriend got married — Terri’s a legend in our industry. It was fantastic!”
Combining theater and activism seems like a perfect fit for a show like Hair.
“Gay rights are important to theater people, ya know? Gavin Creel, who was our original Claude [and who performed at last year’s Black Tie Dinner], inspired us to do a bunch of work with Broadway Impact. We did a big benefit in London, we marched on Washington for the marriage equality rally. We have such a special group of producers — they lost $150,000 to let us go to Washington. But it’s such a special cause for our company, because right is right. We’ve all taken the message of Hair and the idea of advocacy for what you believe in.”
Don’t expect to see similar commitment ceremonies on the stage of the Winspear, though.
“To me, marriage isn’t symbolic — it is real,” DeAngelis says. “I wish we could [perform a same-sex marriage] every night in every city. But that was really just a victory lap for us: It said in the biggest metropolis in the U.S., you can get married. If it wasn’t legal it wouldn’t have mattered.”
Hair is a slightly formless musical, set in 1967 (before the madness of 1968 — the assassinations of MLK and RFK, the escalation of the war in Vietnam) where free-love (including then-provocative issues of interracial dating and homosexuality), drug use and counterculture attitudes are vigorously embraced. Still, some of the controversy over it, especially its notorious nude scene, puzzles DeAngelis.
“I think it’s an incredibly powerful moment in the context of the show. We had one walkout where a woman grabbed her daughter and stormed out. People get all bent out of shape because we took our clothes off for 30 seconds, and it’s not even sexual. But we do far more offensive things in the show with our clothes on: humping, drug use, language. I sing a song called ‘Sodomy’ — though granted, people walk out during that too,” he laughs.
A show like this may be a good fit in gay-friendly NYC, but DeAngelis likes the idea of bringing the message to the people, and not just preaching to the choir.
“Not always playing to a liberal New York audience is sort of the point of the show for us,” he says. “It’s such a message show; taking it to the people is important. Just because you come see Hair doesn’t mean you need to leave as a flower child. We say what we have to say and confront people. If we change a few minds, that’s awesome, but what we really want to do is force people to think about it.That’s the art form. Theater is important — I couldn’t do it for a living if I didn’t believe that. It really has an impact on people, shining a light on the darkest of corners.”
And, like few other musicals, Hair certainly does let the sunshine in.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.